Suspension of Disbelief

Reality and MUSHing.
by Faraday

I’m sure everybody has seen a movie with a plot hole large enough to drive a 747 through. Some folks see it and shout indignantly, “That could never happen!!” The extremists even go so far as to hate the movie because of one such plot hole, no matter how good the rest of the movie was. But then there are others, who shout, “Get over it! It’s just a movie - suspend your disbelief!”

MUSHes are like movies in this way. While a little suspension of disbelief is necessary, I think too much of it is a bad thing. In his book “Writing to Sell”, Scott Meredith (often regarded as one of the most successful literary agents and publishers of his time) talks about possibility versus plausibility, and how important it is in stories to keep things plausible or you’ll lose readers.

The infamous “IC Actions=IC Consequences” mantra is actually just an extention of this same idea. It would be possible for someone to shoot a guy in the middle of the town square and get away scot free (either by escaping or by getting arrested but getting off on a technicality). But it’s not plausible. Too much implausibility in the MUSH, and you’ll lose players.

So how do you (as an admin or as a player) maintain plausibility?

First and foremost, you have to understand the theme. Something that’s implausible in our own 21st century reality might be commonplace in a sci-fi theme (or vice-versa in a fantasy theme). Figuring out what’s plausible sometimes means taking a momentary pause during roleplay to look up, clarify, or discuss something. Whenever someone does this, there’s usually a rousing chorus of OOC remarks along the lines of: “Who cares whether the X widget really works as a laser fuser? Just play on!” But I think it’s important to care, so you maintain that IC plausibility.

Despite your best efforts, sometimes things are roleplayed that really couldn’t (or shouldn’t) have happened the way they did. If you let these things stand, you create a dangerous precedent on your MUSH that may come back to haunt you many moons later. “But Joe used the X widget as a laser fuser six months ago, so clearly it’s capable of fusing things.” To prevent this, you need to fix the original scenes. Yes, it’s the word that most MUSHers dread: Retcon. Retroactive Continuity - the act of going backwards in time to a scene that was already roleplayed and fixing it.

Most players seem to hate retcon because they fear they’ll “lose” their roleplay. I think they’re missing two important facts. First, retcon doesn’t always mean deleting an entire scene. You can use it like a surgeon, going in and cutting out or repairing only the parts that are broken. Second, sometimes it’s better for the MUSH as a whole to retcon things rather than letting them stand. Yes, it kinda sucks for the people involved, but sometimes you have to think of the “greater good”.

Retcon can be messy if used improperly. You have to apply it quickly (to minimize the “ripples” caused by people roleplaying subsequent scenes based on the original bad scene), and you have to make sure everybody knows about it (a public bulletin board post is usually in order, unless you’re absolutely sure that the scene in question didn’t impact anybody else). But if you do it right, retcon can be a useful tool to maintaining your IC plausibility.

I want to close just by reiterating that you do need to have some suspension of disbelief in a game. Most MUSHes, like most movies, are not documentaries. They’re meant to have some action, some adventure, some drama, and most importantly - some fun. It’s okay to throw in “implausible” things from time to time, just take care not to overdo it. It’s a hard balance to strike, but I think it’s worth trying.

^ Back to Top ^